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Why are plenty of talented young linebackers flocking to Utah’s program?

Ethan Calvert, who is the third highest-rated signee in program history, will be on campus for fall camp in August.  Other newcomers include four-star linebacker Mason Tufaga and three-star linebacker Trey Reynolds 

Utah freshman linebacker Mason Tufaga runs through drills during spring camp at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. 
Utah freshman linebacker Mason Tufaga runs through drills during spring camp at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Tufaga was a four-star signee in the Utes’ 2021 recruiting class and he enrolled in January and participated in spring drills.
University of Utah Athletics

Utah’s roster is filled with promising young linebackers.

In December, the Utes signed four-star recruit Ethan Calvert, who is the third highest-rated signee in program history, according to 247Sports.com.

Calvert will be on campus for fall camp in August.

Also joining the class were four-star linebacker Mason Tufaga and three-star linebacker Trey Reynolds. Both enrolled in January and participated in spring practices.

Both Tufaga and Reynolds made an impression on Utah star linebacker Devin Lloyd, who was a Butkus Award finalist last season.

“Mason is a heavy hitter. He’s a guy that wants to get to the ball. Once he gets his weight under control as far as playing at that weight, you’re going to see him shine,” Lloyd said. “He’s already done a lot of good things. Learning the defense is going to be his biggest thing as far as being comfortable in the defense. … He’s got all of the tools. I think you’re going to see a lot more plays from him.”

Lloyd also had high praise for Reynolds.

“As far as Trey, he’s come in and he’s worked his tail off. From the very first time he came in, he was the ’backer that’s always getting extra film in and he’s always trying to do the little things to improve his game,” he said. “It’s showed because he made a lot of plays this spring. You’re going to see more and more plays from him.”

Calvert was rated the No. 4 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 6 overall recruit in California. He received invitations to the Adidas All-American Bowl, the Under Armour All-American game and the Polynesian Bowl.

Coach Kyle Whittingham is excited to get Calvert on the field.

“I love everything about him. He’s a prototypical linebacker,” he said. “He’s got great size, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, and runs like a deer. Instinctive, tough, extremely smart, and so he’s the whole package and we’re elated to have him in the program.”

One of Calvert’s older brothers, Bo, plays for UCLA. Another older brother, Josh, announced in May that he’s transferring from Washington to Utah. Josh Calvert was a four-star recruit in high school and signed with Washington over Utah. He suffered a knee injury in 2019 and he didn’t play last season.

Another linebacker newcomer this season is Jonah Elliss, who is the son of Luther Elliss, an All-American for Utah from 1991-94 who enjoyed a 10-year NFL career.

Utah freshman linebacker Trey Reynolds (37) signals while standing next to fellow linebacker Nephi Sewell (1) during spring camp at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Utah freshman linebacker Trey Reynolds (37) signals while standing next to fellow linebacker Nephi Sewell (1) during spring camp at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Reynolds was a three-star signee in the Utes’ 2021 recruiting class and he enrolled in January and participated in spring drills.
University of Utah athletics

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said linebacker was a position of need during the most recent recruiting cycle.

“You recruit to your numbers, where you feel you lack depth. That was one of the positions we felt we needed to strengthen,” he said. “We did that in recruiting. (Linebackers coach) Colton Swan did an awesome job of targeting the guys that he wanted, that fit our culture. We recruited the snot out of them. We’re fortunate to get a good group to come in.”

Why are so many talented linebackers finding a home with the Utes?

“In terms of why ’backers want to come to Utah, just look at the defensive front, the guys that take up blocks and demand double teams and allow your ’backers to roam free and make plays,” Scalley said. “The reason our ’backers are the most productive players on our team is because those D-linemen do such a great job of owning their role.

“Trust me, Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell are grateful. They tell those defensive lineman how grateful they are for them and what they do. It’s a team sport and the ’backers in our defense are going to be productive based on how the D-line does.”